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Drought and society: scientific progress, blind spots, and future prospects

Savelli, E., Rusca, M., Cloke, H. ORCID: and Di Baldassarre, G. (2022) Drought and society: scientific progress, blind spots, and future prospects. WIREs Climate Change, 13 (3). e761. ISSN 1757-7799

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1002/wcc.761


Human activities have increasingly intensified the severity, frequency and negative impacts of droughts in several regions across the world. This trend has led to broader scientific conceptualisations of drought risk that account for human actions and their interplays with natural systems. This review focuses on physical and engineering sciences to examine the way and extent to which these disciplines account for social processes in relation to the production and distribution of drought risk. We conclude that this research has significantly progressed in terms of recognizing the role of humans in reshaping drought risk and its socio-environmental impacts. We note an increasing engagement with and contribution to understanding vulnerability, resilience and adaptation patterns. Moreover, by advancing (socio)hydrological models, developing numerical indexes and enhancing data processing, physical and engineering scientists have determined the extent of human influences in the propagation of drought hazard. However, these studies do not fully capture the complexities of anthropogenic transformations. Very often, they portray society as homogeneous, and decision-making processes as apolitical, thereby concealing the power relations underlying the production of drought and the uneven distribution of its impacts. The resistance in engaging explicitly with politics and social power—despite their major role in producing anthropogenic drought—can be attributed to the strong influence of positivist epistemologies in engineering and physical sciences. We suggest that an active engagement with critical social sciences can further theorisations of drought risk by shedding light on the structural and historical systems of power that engender every socio-environmental transformation.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:102180


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